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Afghanistan needs you, Red Cross tells other aid groups; UN official says women live in “incredible fear”


The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross appealed on Wednesday to other humanitarian organisations to return to Afghanistan and for the World Bank to unlock funds to support the tottering healthcare system.

Peter Maurer made the comments in a briefing with reporters at the end of a four-day trip to Afghanistan when he met Taliban leaders including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political office.

Afghanistan Kabul street market

Afghans shop at a street market in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 4th September. PICTURE: WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters.

“I do hope that other organisations can find a pathway back,” Maurer said. “I appreciate all of those humanitarian organisations that have an ability to defreeze, to unblock their programs because needs are uncontested.”

“The more other organisations suspend or move out of Afghanistan, with their staff and with competent Afghan staff, the more there are expectations towards the ICRC.”

Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been plunged into crisis by the abrupt end of billions of dollars in foreign aid following the collapse of the Western-backed government and the victory of the Taliban last month.

Maurer said the ICRC never takes positions on sanctions, but said World Bank support for the health sector was critical.

“I would certainly advocate for the Bank to look for the best possible way to resume support for health facilities in Afghanistan,” he said.

During its period in power from 1996-2001, the Islamist militants had an uneasy relationship with foreign aid agencies, eventually expelling many. This time, the group has said it welcomes foreign donors, and will protect the rights of foreign and local staff.

Maurer said the Taliban had shown willingness for the ICRC to continue to monitor conditions in prisons and had expressed interest in the organisation helping to support former long-term prisoners.

The Afghan Government released 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners last month as a condition for peace talks.

“We are open to discuss what an adapted detainee and prison program could look like,” Maurer said.

The ICRC, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1987, deploys some 1,800 national and international staff in the country, including surgical teams.

On Tuesday, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson Jens Laerke told a UN briefing in Geneva that millions of Afghans were in need of food aid and health assistance, urging donors to give more ahead of an international aid conference for Afghanistan on 13th September.

The agency has released a flash appeal for around $US600 million to meet humanitarian needs for 11 million people for the remainder of the year amid warnings of drought and starvation. 

“Basic services in Afghanistan are collapsing and food and other lifesaving aid is about to run out,” he said. “We urge international donors to support this appeal fast and generously.”

More than half a million people have been displaced internally in Afghanistan this year as the Taliban has swept across the country, culminating in its seizure of the capital Kabul on 15th August.

Afghanistan Kabul women protest

Afghan women’s rights defenders and civil activists protest to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their achievements and education, in front of the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 3rd September. PICTURE: Reuters/Stringer.

Meanwhile, a senior UN official said a lack of clarity on the Taliban’s position on women in Afghanistan has generated “incredible fear” across the country and warned there were daily reports of curbs on the rights of women. 

Alison Davidian, deputy head of UN Women in Afghanistan, said some women were being prevented from leaving home without a male relative, women in some provinces were forced to stop work, protection centers for women fleeing violence had been targeted and safe houses for rights activists were at full capacity.

“The lack of clarity of the Taliban’s position on women’s rights has generated incredible fear. And this fear is palpable across the country,” Davidian, speaking from Kabul, told reporters in New York. 

“Memories are vivid of the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s, when there were severe restrictions on women’s rights, and women and girls are understandably afraid,” she said. 

Taliban leaders have vowed to respect women’s rights in accordance with sharia, or Islamic law. But under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women could not work and girls were banned from school. Women had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home. 

In an interview with Australia’s SBS News, a senior Taliban official said women would not be allowed to play cricket – a popular sport in Afghanistan – or possibly any other sport because it was “not necessary” and their bodies might be exposed.

The Islamist movement, which seized power last month, announced a new government on Tuesday that does not include any women. In Kabul, dozens of women took to the streets again to demand representation and for their rights to be protected.

“With the announcement yesterday, the Taliban missed a critical opportunity to show the world that it is truly building an inclusive and prosperous society,” Davidian said. UN Women works globally for gender equality and the empowerment of women.




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